Healing after a church trial

February 27th, 2015

I’m not the first person to serve as senior pastor at Bothell United Methodist Church, and I won’t be the last. Bothell UMC was founded over 128 years ago in Bothell, Washington. We were the first church in the city, and we’ve continued to grow and produce fruit over the years.

A few months ago we added a second duty to the acolyte job of bringing the symbolic light of Christ into our worship space. We now light an additional candle, a community candle, to remind us of our calling to share the light of Christ. We added this candle because our calling to serve the community has broadened.

In 2004, Bothell UMC hosted a trial for a United Methodist clergyperson accused of breaking church law concerning “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” Lingering consequences remain more than ten years after acting as host to the trial. Depending on whom you talk with, we might be known as a “liberal” or a “ conservative” church, based solely on the wider community memory of this event.

Robert Schnase wrote about the practice of “radical hospitality” in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. At the time of the trial, the people of Bothell UMC embodied uncommon hospitality in a crucial way for adversaries on all sides of the theological spectrum. It’s not that Bothell UMC’s theological awareness was, or is today, lukewarm. Our purpose is clear (“becoming Christ in the community”), and we believe that church is meant for all of us. All means all.

We’re not a church that completely agrees on this important topic, but over the past several years, we’ve gone through slow and deliberate discernment while seeking to honor the many theological perspectives present within the multiple communities we serve. We are learning along the way that talking about the process of reconciliation is one thing, but actually doing the ministry of providing sacred space where all really are welcome, is what we’re ultimately called to do.

Our welcome statement, written and adopted in 2014, is a step in the right direction:

Bothell United Methodist Church affirms that God’s grace and peace are freely given to everyone. God’s gifts are not limited by a person’s economic means or social condition. Our hearts, minds, and doors are always open to people of all ages, races, nationalities, sexual orientations, gender identities, marital statuses, and mental or physical conditions.

We invite you to join us as we strive to live out our mission of “becoming Christ in the community.” With God’s guidance and strength, we can transform the world. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, know that you are welcome here.

We recently formed a reconciling discernment team that is tasked with providing a sacred space to ensure that all are welcome. We expect to honor wherever a person is in his or her faith formation while inviting each other to deeper reflection and discipleship.

We light the community candle to remind ourselves that faithful people are not called to complete uniformity but rather to celebrate the diverse community of disciples we truly are. The mosaic of diversity is our strength. It isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the time to connect the parts of Christ’s body. We dream about a communion table that is large enough to host all people with our imperfections, questions, and “isms” that might separate us from loving each other.

We live in this tension each day by agreeing to disagree. With the grace of the triune God as our plumb line, we work toward a day when no one would question whether she or he will be welcome to worship at Bothell UMC or any other faith community. Until then, we will light our community candle to remind us that our work is not yet done.

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